A shore-spawning brook trout cruises in shallow water at Moosehead Lake. Credit: Courtesy of Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

It seems like a lifetime ago, we were immersed in conversations about protecting the tremendous shore-spawning brook trout that have been so prevalent in the catch on Moosehead Lake. We had another outstanding winter for trout fishing with many fish over the 5-pound mark. We ended our winter data collection in mid-March, a few weeks early, as concerns over the coronavirus heightened. Now, as summer rolls on and we have all had our fill of Netflix, it’s time to get back to fishing.

As I mentioned in a previous report back in early January, we believe many of these big bruisers are still spawning at the onset of the ice fishing season. This past January, we saw milt and eggs running out of freshly caught brook trout. Some of these fish were caught as late as the last week of January. It is amazing from a biological perspective, because for the most part, brook trout do their spawning in October and, in a few waters, early November. Spawning in January is unheard of, but here it is, right in front of us.

We’ve always strived to protect our wild brook trout in this state. It’s one of the reasons we have so many wild brook trout waters remaining, compared to the rest of the East Coast. It is vitally important to protect trout during spawning. These fish do not lay many eggs compared to warmwater fish. There is no quicker way to impact a wild trout population than to take them off their spawning beds before they can complete their life cycle. It is exacerbated in this situation because these fish are so big and desirable. Also, they are concentrated in a few areas and anglers have locked on to one of those spots and harvested a lot of these big trout from this spawning area.

We spend a lot of time on Moosehead Lake each year collecting data and talking to anglers. We don’t take management decisions lightly, nor do we make them in a vacuum. The lake is important to a lot of people, including recreational anglers, those who ice fish, those who open- water fish and those who value and appreciate nature. The river fisheries are also affected by management decisions for the lake.

Maintaining a good fishery is very important to the regional economy. We’ve had a lot of feedback from the public about protecting this fishery, and I’m fortunate to have an excellent stakeholder group, the Moosehead Lake Focus Group, that meets with the local fisheries staff twice a year to talk about all things related to Moosehead’s fisheries. The members represent all of the user groups that make up the fishing community on Moosehead. We are all dedicated to making this lake the best it can be for all to enjoy.

Over the next few fishing reports, I’m going to break down our data and the development of a regulation proposal. The goal was centered on protecting and prolonging this unique population of large shore-spawning brook trout that has been developing over the past several years. I believe we are bringing forward a great regulation package proposal that will find the right balance of adding necessary protections for these big fish without stifling the trout fishing or creating confusing and convoluted regulations.

Tim Obrey works for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife as the regional fisheries supervisor for the Moosehead Lake region.